The World After Huntington

The brains behind one of the most controversial theories of our era is no longer alive. Former Harvard Professor and renowned political scientist Samuel Huntington died on Saturday at the age of 81.

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Published: Tue 30 Dec 2008, 10:42 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 3:57 PM

The writer of the contentious book, Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order, which expanded on his 1993 article in Foreign Affairs, taught at Harvard’s School of Government for nearly six decades before retiring in 2007.

In this (in)famous book of his, Huntington divided the world into adversarial civilizations based primarily on religious traditions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism and argues that conflict among them was inevitable. His main theory that religion instead of ideology will be a source of conflict in the post-Cold War era underpinned broad debate in the international community, especially after the events of 9/11 and the subsequent war on terrorism.

Even though the prolific political scientist is no longer around to churn out more contentious ideas, Clash of Civilizations will remain the topic of heated debate and discussion for a long time to come both in and outside the world of academia. Many an intellectual mind has questioned, debunked and rebutted the book’s main argument ad nauseam. In fact, Huntington’s simplistic “West vs. the Rest” notion continues to be the subject of endless bashing in non-Western academic institutions.

Notwithstanding their simplistic reductionism, there is no doubt that Huntington’s views have become the dominant paradigm which defines how the world has come to perceive international conflicts and relations after 9/11 events.

Their simplicity holds a powerful appeal for policy-making circles, media pundits as well as laymen, who find it convenient to view the world as being characterized by uncomplicated dichotomies, homogenous wholes and straightforward conflicts. The world will remember Huntington for the one contentious book he wrote in 1996. But it needs to be acknowledged that he as an academic had done some phenomenal work earlier in his career. He wrote extensively on institutions and civil-military relations in Third World countries and his books and journals are a mandatory read for any student of comparative politics.

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